Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall, Author, Academic on Bible translation is interviewed on episode 5 of 7 on women in ministry and women in leadership. Click on my YouTube Playlist for the full conversation.
Q. What has been your journey?
Became Christian in a fundamental, complementarian tradition. In 1989 found researching Egalitarian views would undermine academic credibility. Studying linguistics showed the complementarian interpretations were not plausible.
Q. Why does the gender conversation matter?
We need to rightly divide the word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Traditional interpretations made the text incoherent and contradictory. Believers have an obligation to use their talents, gifts, not be restricted. You can't tell another part of the body you don't need them.
Q. What translation tricks have you found?
Be faithful to the text. The Bible does not contradict himself, and Paul would not contradict himself. If women reflect God’s glory in Genesis, they can’t be men's glory in 1 Corinthians. If women can prophesy publicly then they can’t be silent.
Misleading or misplaced subtitles project tradition onto the text. When the topic is misidentified, the message is incoherent. 1 Timothy 2 is not about instructions for a worship service. 1 Corinthians 11 is not about 'women under men's authority' but about 'women having authority over their own attire'. Corinthian women may want to cover their hair to protect themselves from sexual harassment. A woman has authority over her own head covering. The church has no policy on head coverings. Ephesians 5 is not about household codes but living in love, all believers submitting to one another. The subtitle should not be mid-sentence.
Grammar in Greek is not the same as English. 1 Tim. 2 says "I am currently not permitting". It’s not for all time. Greek words meaning both genders shouldn’t mean men only. James 1:12 is about all believers, not just men. When Paul speaks to 'All of you', he means women and men. In Christ, there is no differentiation.
Your identity has a role in interpretation. Men are not free of their status/ presuppositions. Men were not affected by the contradictions of traditional interpretations. There is no calling without experience. Paul speaks for diversity in leadership.
Q. What has changed?
The traditional hierarchy was assumed to be correct. Religious leaders can only be convinced by the Scripture. When I became egalitarian thirty years ago, egalitarian scholarship lagged, but now Christians are re-examining their beliefs.
Q. Let's dig into four specific passages that have been tricky for Christians to understand concerning gender.
There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 NRSVUE
Everything has changed in Christ. Uncircumcised men can be leaders! There are no competing identities among believers. Paul says worship practices, relationships, authoritarian structures, and cultural systems are all changed in Christ. To say this equality only applies to salvation is limiting the text. A parallel passage 1 Corinthians 12:13 says one Spirit gives us gifts without differentiation. Equality is about how we function in the body. We are to use whatever gift the Spirit provides (Romans 12:6-8). What applies to one believer applies to us all.
1 Corinthians 11
For this reason a woman ought to have authority over her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, but all things come from God. 1 Cor. 11: 10-12 NRSVUE
The topic is appropriate dress for men and women when praying/ prophesying. They are distinct genders with the same roles/ functions. This is not about women being submissive to men. Men wanted to regulate women's head coverings. At that time, women uncovered their hair only for intimate family or to show sexual availability. Women wore veils for respect, status, protection from harassment and to fit into the culture - not to be submissive to husbands. It would be shameful for a woman to expose their hair publicly. Paul says women may have agency, and authority over their own head covering. The church has no policy on veiling.
1 Corinthians 14
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only?
1 Corinthians 14: 34-36 KJV
If you read this to say that women must be silent and restricted, it contradicts the Bible. All believers are called to exercise their gifts. The topic of this passage is to stop talking at the same time. Paul addresses (1) men/women speaking in tongues (2) men/women prophesying (3) women who are chatting. All three are told to be quiet and listen to others. Everyone is to teach/prophesy/speak, but don't speak out of turn.
1 Peter 3
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;1 Peter 3:1 KJV
Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 1 Peter 3:7 KJV
This is not endorsing the reality of harsh masters and husbands but addressing it. This is not a call to endure abuse. Peter does not change the Greco-Roman culture but gives women agency and coping strategies. Peter equips women to use submission to bring an unbelieving husband to Christ. Peter tells believing husbands their wives are equal, co-heirs. All believers are to use their gifts (1 Peter 4:10).
Whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. 1 Timothy 3:1
It is good for men and women to want to be a spiritual leader. It is not arrogant. Don't restrict one another. Let each follow their individual call.
The Local Churchology Podcast examines women in ministry and in church office.
Episode 7 interviews Tom Barker about 1 Timothy.
Episode 6 interviews Dr. David Fitch and discusses being led by the Holy Spirit.
Episode 5 of the Local Churchology invites Dr. Cynthia Long Westfall to discuss the meaning of 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 and 1 Peter 3.
Episode 4, where Old Testament scholar Dr. Lee Beach discusses his journey from complementarian to egalitarian.
Episode 3, Dr. Beth Felker Jones provides a framework to navigate gender and theology discussions.
This is Episode 2, where Dr Lynn Cohick discusses how God shows no favouritism and the impact of Ephesians and Colossians on women.
Episode 1 is my interview on The Local Churchology Podcast. Often a story is the most accessible way to introduce ideas. My interview discusses how Jesus lifted up women and how fiction can be seen as a parable. My novel #ForgottenFollowers from Broken to Bold is about women in the Gospels.
Check out my blog summary of each episode. Original interviews are available on YouTube.
Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:
Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold
The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role